Afghan paralympic athletes’ dreams over as they remain trapped in Kabul

Taekwondo paralympic athlete Zakia Khudadadi was profiled on the Paralympic website last week where she spoke of her excitement to take part in the Games. Credit: International Paralympic Committee/Afghanistan NPC

"This is the first time that a female athlete will be representing Afghanistan at the Games and I'm so happy", 23-year-old Zakia Khudadadi said last week.

But as the Taliban insurgency swept in the capital of Kabul, her hopes have been dashed.

It was a dream so close to realisation by the paralympic athlete who would have become the first woman to represent Afghanistan at a Paralympic Games, which are set to take place in Tokyo later this month.

But the taekwondo athlete has had her dreams shattered amid the recent turmoil in her country, along with those of fellow athlete Hossain Rasouli.

Zakia Khudadadi (left) and Hossain Rasouli (right) Credit: International Paralympic Committee/Afghanistan NPC

Arian Sadiqi, London-based taekwondo instructor who was supposed to lead the team as chef de mission for Afghanistan’s Paralympic Committee, said on Monday that the country's two athletes would not be able to attend the Games that are due to start on 24 August.

"Unfortunately due to the current upheaval going on in Afghanistan the team could not leave Kabul in time," he said.

Sadiqi said the athletes had been trying to secure flights to arrive in Tokyo on August 17, but prices soared as the Taliban took over a string of cities. It then became impossible as chaotic scenes unfolded in the capital Kabul airport with thousands attempting to flee following the Taliban’s seizing of control.

In a profile on the Paralympic website last week, athlete Khudadadi from Hurrat had high hopes for her participation in the Games, saying: "I was thrilled after I received the news that I have got a wild card to compete at the Games".

24-year-old Rasouli, who lost his left arm in a mine blast, echoed Khudadadi's sentiments and was looking forward to his paralympic debut.

“It is a dream to participate at Tokyo Games and I want to win a medal for the country. I know that other Para athletes from different countries would have prepared themselves very well, but I will try my best to get in a good position,” he said.

"They were really excited prior to the situation”, Sadiqi said about Khudadadi and discus thrower Rasouli. “They were training wherever they could, in the parks and back gardens", he added.

But now, Sadiqi said that if the past is anything to go by, then the future of sport for Afghan athletes looks bleak.

"There was a lot of progress, both in the Olympics and the Paralympics," he said of recent decades. "At the national level there was a lot of participants, a lot of athletes...but we can only predict from what happened in the past.

"Previously during the Taliban era people couldn't compete, couldn't participate, especially female athletes".

Afghan athletes first competed at the 1996 Paralympic Games but have never won a medal.

Rohullah Nikpai became Afghanistan's first Olympic medallist in any sport when he won bronze in taekwondo at the 2008 Beijing Games, repeating the feat at London 2012.

"For me, it's heartbreaking," Sadiqi said. "This would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part. This was history in the making. She was excited to take part. She was very passionate to compete.

"Zakia would have been a great role model for the rest of the females in the country".